Baltimore Reviews… PARADISE X
January 23, 2018
Chapman Reviews… THE PUNISHER: Season 1
January 30, 2018


After seeing it again, Star Wars: The Last Jedi has challenged the core of what Star Wars means to me on a personal level.

This is not a single viewing film. There is a lot to process in the 2 1/2 hour event that takes place. And there are comments, plot points, events that simply get lost of the initial spectacle of seeing this movie for the first time.

As a group, Total Geek Live has addressed our thoughts on the subject (technical issues aside), so not much has changed from that initial commentary. My personal “Didn’t Like” thoughts have reduced, though I still stand firm on the topics of:

* Lando Calrissian should have been included as a plot point of the Canto Bight adventure. Why is Billy Dee Williams not being used for these films?
* Phasma and Snoke were reduced to “useless” characters through their abrupt eliminations (and expands upon the thoughts from earlier reviews that “expanded media” should not be a requirement to understand the motivations or side and/or backstories of a character).
* Rey is simply too inherently skilled and powerful despite receiving almost no training at all from Luke. This is also coupled with Rey’s very “un-Jedi” behaviors of holding secret meetings with Kylo Ren, and upon Luke’s discovery of this, violently attacks him to get the “truth” of what Ren told her. This echos similar to how Anakin fell to the Dark Side, in which she readily and willingly flirts with it, but here’s not even a hint of repercussion or danger. It’s not Daisy Ridley’s performance that’s the issue. It’s how her plot narrative is written.
* Had Holdo met Poe Dameron with the same level of “understood” trust and respect that Leia regarded him with, had not been condescending and dismissive from “minute one”, and had shared some insight into future planning tactics on a ship where morale was already at the breaking point, Dameron and the frustrated crew could have been assets, and had not wasted that precious time on unnecessary plans as hundreds upon hundreds died. “Expanded media”, I’ve been told, also applies to her character to understand her backstory and motivations, but the general viewing audience doesn’t get the luxury of knowing that relationship history beforehand. You don’t cut off someone that is being shaped to become a leader. You teach them to be better. The Resistance needs leaders more than ever now. For this interpretation in a standalone story, Holdo was simply a bad leader.

Many of the criticisms that Last Jedi faces are due to the viewer’s memories. Hyperspace tracking was “blink and you’ll miss it” alluded to in Rogue One. The “slow chase” between the First Order and the Resistance is more than simply an act of hubris. And many of the more humor-laden comments were callbacks to previous installments. Leia’s “hair” comment during her family reunion is a callback to her initial reunion with Han Solo in The Force Awakens. Poe Dameron openly mocked Kylo Ren in a similar fashion in that same film during their initial meeting.

And no joke, no matter how unexpected in Last Jedi, are as bad as the groan-worthy puns that an off-character C-3PO continually ground out in Attack of the Clones, or the multiple Jar Jar Binks “kicked in the crotch” gags of The Phantom Menace.

Fans forget “puzzle pieces” in the spectacle of that initial viewing. They don’t notice details. It’s easier to focus on unsatisfying moments than focus on the new elements that are brought to the table. The Resistance is in tatters, a loss that is deeper than even Empire Strikes Back, and more comparable to Revenge of the Sith. So many articles have already focused on the “fact” that Rey now “officially” “comes from nothing”, while forgetting that this is the “Skywalker Saga” of the overall Star Wars narrative. People also forget that Ben Solo/Kylo Ren is a manipulative, emotionally unstable liar.

It’s also easy to point out Poe Dameron’s “flaws” and refusal to listen to Leia at the beginning of the film, but his well-intentioned insubordination paid off: The First Order’s “Hyperspace Tracking” already existed, though it hadn’t been revealed to the characters or audience yet. Having that Dreadnaught still in operation after that initial escape attempt would have been more devastating to the Resistance, and cost more lives.

Even my memory failed in placing the actual final scene as not being the Resistance crew on the Millenium Falcon, but of the unknown boy being inspired by the tale of Luke Skywalker, told not immediately after, but during some unknown and unspecified point in the future. Jedi can come from nothing. Anyone, not just the Skywalker bloodline, can become a Jedi. The Prequels for all their faults, well established that. But this still remains a Skywalker story.

I double down on my claim that Rey is a Skywalker. Luke’s third lesson was never taught. And it’s likely a lesson of legacy and family. Han knew who Rey was in The Force Awakens. Every look on his face cleanly and openly conveyed that. For that matter, so did Leia. And considering how enraged Kylo Ren had gotten when he found out the missing BB-8 was accompanied by “just a girl from Jakku”, I think he knows her true parentage as well.

The Last Jedi is a tonal departure of what we’ve come to expect from a Star Wars story with its subverted tropes, and yet it isn’t. There are still beats that fit into the overall narrative, with lessons learned and character growth. Poe begins to show a new level of leadership within that final battle, echoing the lessons of Leia’s earlier points that once fell on deaf ears.

To talk about The Last Jedi and its effect on me has to delve into spoiler territory. I’ve spent a lifetime growing up on Star Wars. From playing with the Kenner toys to watching the films at home, playing video games, attending events, and meeting several members of the cast. It’s drawn of feelings of nostalgia, the heroes that shape our childhood into the people we wish to be, the connections they make, and by proxy that we make with them. I never felt that same rush during the Prequels, which made me wonder if I had outgrown the series, as its future seemed to be defined by looking back.

And yet, there was a genuine childlike thrill of seeing the Millenium Falcon soar once more with an older Han Solo (in the last film) and Chewbacca at the helm again, or Yoda’s spirit conveying a more relaxed and unburdened tone, still continuing to share some of the hardest lessons in life, of going beyond while letting go. These moments were coupled with the feeling that we’ve all grown up, and can’t quite see the world with the wide-eyed optimism that Finn was seeing once he had freed himself of the First Order’s grasp.

It was that moment of seeing Luke Skywalker at the end of The Force Awakens. Silent. Wearied. But still powerful. Luke’s story, even at its best and most successful, has always been marred by personal loss and tragedy. He’s simply “over” the Jedi now. He calls out the events of the entire Prequel Trilogy by saying that in the Jedi’s hubris, they allowed the rise of evil, the enslavement of the galaxy, and the creation of their worst enemy happen right in front of them, and they were clueless the whole time. They weren’t “heroes”. They were pawns. Fools.

In that regard, I appreciated the “reset” of the status quo of the Force itself, as Luke’s take claims that no one has the right to possess the power of its inherently natural balance within every aspect of life. This was far more compelling an idea than the Prequel‘s view of it.

My personal connection with Star Wars come to an impasse in this film. I’ve met Mark Hamill not once, but twice, and standing face to face with someone that I had admired my whole life, was profound. In my enthusiasm, I told him how much he meant to me. He was gracious the first time. He had crashed a party my friends and I were at the second time years later, and there he was just Mark. And “Just Mark” was hilarious and charming.

It’s hard to discuss this film without the real-world loss of Carrie….

Carrie Fisher passed away on December 27, 2017. Within a year of this writing. Princess Leia was my first crush. Strong. Fiery. Sarcastic. She didn’t take crap from anyone. How surprised was I when I first found out that the real person past the role was exactly the same way. I never met Carrie, but as she got older, she only became more endearing with her eccentricities and truths.

And like that, she was gone. Some things within her, she could never settle. And it cost us all a genuine princess of Hollywood royalty.

You can only watch a new Star Wars movie for the first time just once. You can only get that thrill of not knowing what lies ahead until the expectancy of the familiar takes its place. I went into this film knowing this was Carrie’s final role. A year later, I find that I still wasn’t prepared.

To the film’s credit, they could have taken the easy route, having provided so many in-universe exit opportunities to remove the character of Leia from the story. But the filmmakers chose to let her last performance stand untouched. It will undoubtedly cause havoc for Episode IX, and will likely never be resolved in any truly satisfactory way, but here we are.

I wasn’t prepared for Luke.

My mind refused to accept it that first time. I couldn’t. Not after all the defeat and loss…. the failure that defined the central theme of this installment. Han Solo was difficult, but Luke Skywalker….

The second time…. The second time I watched the film, knowing what to expect came to the moment of Luke and Leia’s reunion. Now knowing…. Now understanding the sacrifice made, I saw the end of Luke Skywalker. And the end of Carrie Fisher. The end of the last natural portrayal of Princess Leia.

It was their “good-bye” scene to each other, but it was mine as well. A moment of taking in that final moment of the heroes from my own childhood so long ago. Reality and fantasy combined. A reminder of all of us getting older, the unexpectancy of life itself… and even imagination couldn’t keep the real world at bay any longer. I felt the loss deeply with a sense of finality. And I grieved freely this viewing. I cannot recall any moment in recent film history that had filled me with a sense of true personal loss on that level. Even Peter Mayhew retired from playing the role of Chewbacca in The Force Awakens, with Chewie now being played by Joonas Suotamo.

Heroes, even ones based within the works of fiction, can profoundly resonate within an audience, especially long-standing ones that can face real-world consequences. We all grew up in our own ways since A New Hope, and whereas I watched them grow through their own lives and through film, they only knew of me from afar, or not at all. I still think the decision for Luke’s conclusion was a regrettable one, but his sacrifice was definitely a very “Luke” thing to do: Sacrifice it all for the ones that he loves. The intents of Anakin and Luke were always similar, though Anakin’s methods were selfish. Luke remained selfless.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi, once you get past the shock, and the hype and the faulty memories (and the film’s own faults), and the real-world loss, presents an interesting, if uncertain future. It defies expectations, especially when moviegoers complained that Force Awakens was too tonally similar to A New Hope. And yet, Rian Johnson has tried to do his own thing within a well-established Saga that either ignored (and in some cases) “broke” elements in an attempt to put his own individualized stamp of the series. And some of it doesn’t work well for the past or the future. I can see why J.J. Abrams became the replacement director of Episode IX to clear up the messy and unaddressed plot elements that The Last Jedi has created.

In regards to The Last Jedi: Watch it and form your own opinion. There are countless authors on the internet that specialize in writing “clickbait” articles that entice readership via sensationalist headlines. So many of these “authors” are missing/ignoring crucial plot details laid out in front of them, or not seeing the bigger picture. Others are trying to manipulate plot narratives to fit into their own personal ideologies. Some only see what they want to see. This is a complicated entry into the Star Wars Saga, yet viewer reaction is making it too complicated in some instances. Go in with fresh eyes, and be prepared not to discover every answer the first time.

There is one more chapter in this overall saga left, though in many ways, it feels like my era has ended with this last film. I will still obviously check out Episode IX and related spin-off tales. It’s always been fun for me, though I feel it will never be as personal of a journey as it was before.

And for what it’s worth, the Porgs never really bothered me.

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